Is Brexit to blame for UK-France travel delays and will this affect every holiday?

Once again the beginning of a busy holiday period has seen long queues in the UK as British visitors attempt to travel to France - so what is causing this and is there any prospect of things getting better?

Is Brexit to blame for UK-France travel delays and will this affect every holiday?
Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP

The past few days have once again seen long queues in the UK port of Dover, with reports of coach parties waiting up to 16 hours for a crossing, and queues of cars reported on Thursday ahead of the Easter weekend.

This comes after passengers reported 12-hour waits in Dover over the summer – so is this simply the new reality of travel from the UK to France? And is Brexit to blame?


The most recent travel chaos happened at the start of the Easter holidays.

It began last week when the UK school holidays started and initially mostly affected coach parties travelling from Dover – the Easter break is a popular time for UK school trips to Europe – with groups reporting waits at the ferry port of up to 16 hours, while some schools simply cancelled their trips altogether.

Long queues also began to build on Thursday at the port, ahead of the four-day Easter weekend which is also a popular travel time to France.  

Passengers travelling by Eurotunnel, Eurostar and by air saw fewer problems, with the exception of some flights cancelled because of the French air traffic controllers’ strike.

So what caused the delays?

As seems to be an enduring pattern – it depends on who you ask. 

The port of Dover said that it was a combination of a peak travel period with higher than expected volumes of coach parties combined with “the lengthier border checking process that coach parties must now undertake” while Dover’s Conservative MP blamed the French.

The Port of Dover CEO then gave an interview to UK newspaper The Independent in which he singled out French border police for being “very, very helpful” in assisting in clearing the queues, and explained that passport checks simply take more time since Brexit.


So what is the “lengthier border checking process” that the Port of Dover refers to? This refers to the fact that the border between France and the UK is now an external border of the EU.

Because of the nature of the Brexit deal requested by the UK, all UK citizens entering the EU must now have their passports checked and – if applicable – stamped by French border control agents, a process that takes significantly longer than the pre-Brexit checking process.

Bannister has previously estimated that the new checks mean that it takes 90 seconds for a family of four in a car to pass through French immigration. Previously, the encounter would last just a few seconds.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, once you multiply it by the tens of thousands of passengers who pass through busy crossing points like the Port of Dover, it can add hours onto crossing times.

It is a particular problem for coaches, when passports for every passenger have to be checked and stamped – scaling up to a 53-seat coach, the time taken represents 20 minutes per vehicle, estimates UK travel journalist Simon Calder.

So is this just a feature of UK travel now?

While problems at Dover are becoming regular, it’s not true to say that there are always problems or even always problems at peak times – the Christmas getaway passed largely without incident.

However, the post-Brexit checking processes undoubtedly takes more time and adds stress onto the system – this combined with a peak travel time and any extra factors such as bad weather or staff shortages can therefore quickly escalate into extremely long waits.

Port authorities over the Easter weekend declared a major incident and ferry companies put on extra sailings before service was able to return to normal.

The British Brexit-supporting MP John Redwood, on the other hand, suggested that people abandon the idea of a holiday in France.

Is it worse at Dover?

Due to the Le Touquet agreement, French border force agents work in the UK ports of Dover and Folkestone and the Eurostar terminal of St Pancras (while British agents work in French ports and Gare du Nord). It is this, combined with the huge volume of traffic between France and the UK, that is the reason behind post-Brexit travel delays being seen largely in British ports.

READ ALSO What is the Le Touquet treaty?

Eurostar staff at London St Pancras face the same issues, but because of limited processing space at the terminal, Eurostar bosses have opted to reduce services between the UK and France. This means that passengers don’t face the same type of queues – but the flip side of this is fewer services and higher prices.

The port of Calais faces the same passport control as Dover, but generally sees fewer problems – this is largely due to the fact that the French government spent €44 million updating the infrastructure of its ports in order to prepare for Brexit. 

Will this ever get better?

There might be a glimmer of hope for school trips, as French president Emmanuel Macron and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a ‘simplified’ process for school trips after their summit in March, which could help solve the specific problem that coach parties were having over Easter.

The UK’s former ambassador to France told The Local that this announcement likely relates to reinstating a system similar to the collective travel document – which would mean only once document would be needed for each coach trip. Full details are, however, yet to be announced and the system is not yet in place.

Beyond this, there isn’t much chance of things changing and things might in fact get worse.

This is due to the introduction of the EU’s new EES system which will require enhanced border checks – including biometric data and fingeprinting – something that many travel industry figures have repeatedly warned will make border problems a lot worse.

The start date for the introduction of EES has recently been postponed.

READ ALSO EES and ETIAS: The big changes for travel in Europe

Member comments

  1. One thing only briefly mentioned in the article is overbooking by the ferry companies. They have said “a higher than expected number of coaches” have added to waiting times. Surely they knew how many were expected and should have planned accordingly?

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For members


9 new train routes in France in 2024

There will be several new offers for both domestic and international train trips in France in 2024. 

9 new train routes in France in 2024

SNCF lower-speed trains

France’s national rail service plans to offer three new low-cost, slower speed trains – not to exceed 160 km/h – in parallel with their high-speed, TGV offerings. These are expected to be put into service in the final months of 2024.

Paris-Rennes –  About four hours, in comparison to the usual 1 hour and thirty minutes on TGV lines. It will pass through Massy-Palaiseau, Versailles, Chartres, Le Mans and Laval.

Paris-Bordeaux – About five hours (compared to a little over two hours on a high-speed line). It will also pass through Juvisy, Les Aubrais, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, Futuroscope, Poitiers and Angoulême stations.

Paris-Brussels  – Approximately three hours (just under 1 hour and 30 minutes for the TGV). As of August 2023, the proposed stops for this line were Creil and Aulnoye-Aymeries in France, and Mons in Belgium. However, this may still be subject to change, according to Geo.Fr

Tickets will range from €10 to a €49 maximum for adults.

High-speed trains

Paris-Madrid – Italy’s Trenitalia already runs a route between Barcelona and Madrid, but in 2024 it wants to add a Paris-Barcelona route that would create a direct connection between Paris and Madrid.

It’s scheduled to be in operation by the end of 2024. 

READ MORE: Train travel from France to Spain: Everything you need to know

Paris-Berlin – France and Germany are collaborating to put a new TGV route between the capital cities. The journey would take around seven hours, and it is expected to launch sometime in 2024, according to Forbes. A direct night train route between Paris and Berlin launches on December 11th 2023, and the daytime service is expected towards the end of 2024. 

Paris-Bourg Saint Maurice – the low-cost rail service Ouigo launches on December 10th a new budget-friendly line running from the capital to Bourg Saint Maurice (popularly known as Bourg), which is located in Savoie. This is expected to run daily during the winter season.

Paris Roissy-Toulon – Another low-cost offer, Ouigo will launch on December 10th 2023 a high-speed low-cost route going between the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport and the port city on the Mediterranean. It will pass through Marne La-Vallée Chessy, Lyon Saint-Exupéry, and Aix-en-Provence TGV before arriving in Toulon.

Night trains

Paris-Berlin – The Paris-Berlin night train begins on December 11th 2023. It will initially be a three-train-a-week service before becoming daily in October 2024. It will stop at Strasbourg, Mannheim, Erfurt and Halle.

Paris-Aurillac – This Intercités line will also be introduced on December 10th 2023 and will be available in 2024. It will run from the capital city to the Auvergne region, and it will pass through the following stations: Saint-Denis-Près-Martel, Bretenoux-Biars, Laroquebrou and Aurillac.

Other transport plans for 2024

In a December interview with Franceinfo, the French transport minister, Clément Beaune, repeated his interest in creating France’s version of the German €49-a-month train ticket. This would allow users to have unlimited use of TER and Intercités trains, and would be similarly priced to the German plan.

Beaune said this would be created “by the summer of 2024”.

He also announced that train ticket prices for Intercités (classic, non-high speed lines connecting cities) and Ouigo (the low-cost high speed rail service) would not increase in price in 2024.

READ MORE: France to freeze ticket prices on some rail services in 2024

What about 2025?

TGV M – Hailed the train of the future, the fifth-generation high-speed train, TGV M, will have a maximum capacity of 740 seats (compared to the 630 on current TGV models). It will consume 20 percent less energy than current TGVS, according to Ouest France. It is set to be introduced in early 2025.

Paris-Venice – Initially, the rail company Midnight Trains, which plans to offer new ‘hotels on rails’ (eg, night trains with more luxurious features, such as real beds and sound proof walls), was hoping to launch its Paris-Venice night train in 2024. However, according to Euronews, this is now set for 2025. It is expected to go through Milan.

In the coming years, France is hoping to expand its internal night train network to a total of 10 lines, according to French transport minister Clément Beaune.

Paris-London – a rail startup named Evolyn says it plans to bid to run a London-Paris service to rival Eurostar, with 2025 as a desired start date. However, the bid is in the very early stages.